What is True Humility?

Sometimes we see verses in the Bible on humility and we think that means self-deprecate. Why wouldn’t we? After all, if you were to look in any dictionary ‘humble’ is defined as having a modest or low opinion of your own importance and ‘self-deprecate’ is defined as expressing disapproval of yourself or dismissing something as being unimportant. They sound exactly the same, and maybe by human standards they are. I sure thought so.

I think most people think that if they self-deprecate then they have succeeded in humbling themselves thereby doing what God has asked them to do because the Bible clearly tells us that we are to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord. But I think the creators of modern English dictionaries are wrong. Self-deprecation is not the same as humbling yourself.

C.S. Lewis recognizes the disparity between self-deprecation and humbling yourself when he writes “by this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever mean trying to believe they are fools” (The Screwtape Letters).

We think self-deprecation takes the form of humility, but that’s not the case. Self-deprecation is when an attractive person thinks him or herself unattractive, when an intelligent person thinks him or herself unintelligent, or when a person with a great personality thinks him or herself as having no personality or having too much personality. And if this is self-deprecation then by deprecating ourselves we are also deprecating God’s creation. We are saying that what God created isn’t what God actually created it as. And by doing this, we are discrediting God and making him seem less important than he actually is. In summation, we are humbling God when what we were actually trying to do was humble ourselves.

So what is true humility? What definition of humility should we be going by as we seek to humble ourselves?

C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity that “true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” I agree with Lewis, but I also propose that true humility is thinking ourselves as important but less important than God, beautiful but not as beautiful as God, intelligent but nowhere near as intelligent as God, and full of personality in a unique and God-given way but only full and complete in personality because of God.

So yes, humility is to think of yourself as less important…than God. It is not to think of yourself as not important at all because as one of my favorite books/movies says, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

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